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Conor Mills at home in Belfast
Conor Mills at home in Belfast

Press release -

Leading stroke charity funds first study into long-term impact of Covid-19 on stroke

 It is thought that the virus could be increasing the chance of blood clots forming in the brain and blocking blood flow [3]. The Stroke Association is funding this vital research to investigate the difference the virus could make to stroke recoveries, which are already at risk due to disruption to stroke services caused by the pandemic [4].

The study will establish which differences in patients with and without the virus may influence their needs for treatment and care, including how to avoid the risk of having further strokes.

Researchers at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) will follow up to 4,000 stroke survivors, with and without Covid-19 from across 13 emergency stroke units. Stroke recovery, rehabilitation and health will be tracked for up to 18 months after their stroke. Researchers will collect and assess comprehensive, specialist medical information from stroke patients, including brain scans, blood samples and measures of disability. The findings will help to understand how Covid-19 impacts stroke recovery and which treatments might best support survivors’ recoveries.

Dr Richard Perry, lead researcher at UCLH, said: “Research that compares stroke in patients with and without Covid-19 is essential to understand if Covid-19 results in more severe strokes, where survivors will need more support to recover from its devastating effects. While redeployed to stroke wards at the start of the pandemic, I would see patients admitted with unusual strokes, who would then go on to have a positive Covid-19 test.

“The findings from this study will inform decisions about the most effective treatment and the rehabilitation needs of this group of patients, including prevention of recurrent stroke. We already know that from the moment a person has a stroke or mini-stroke they are at substantial increased risk of further strokes [5].

“We’ve come a long way since the start of the pandemic. I’m incredibly proud of stroke doctors and researchers throughout the UK who generously gave their time to contribute to the early stages of our study on the impact of Covid-19 on stroke, when we had no resources and were entirely dependent on their goodwill. This much-needed funding means we can continue the urgent work.”

Stroke is a sudden brain attack, stroke strikes every five minutes, and there are more than 1.2 million stroke survivors living in the UK, that’s almost 39,000 in Northern Ireland. However, this is set to rise; it is predicted that the number of stroke survivors aged 45 and over in the UK could rise to 1.4 million in 2025, and 2.1 million in 2035 [6].

Conor Mills is 22 and lives in Belfast. Conor was studying Occupational Therapy at the University of the West of England, Bristol and was living with friends in shared accommodation and enjoying his uni experience. Conor became aware of feeling unwell around the start of November 2020. His symptoms included loss of taste and smell, lack of appetite and muscle and joint pain and nausea. As the days progressed, Conor was convinced that he’d contracted coronavirus. A week later however, he woke up to find that he’d lost his speech completely and the movement in his right hand.

Conor says: “I’d been asleep and woke up to find not only that I couldn’t speak, but I couldn’t understand what others were saying to me. I was unable to move my right hand and felt like my brain was going crazy. I eventually worked out that something must have happened whilst I was asleep but I just couldn’t understand what it was. Thankfully one of my friends who shared the house with me, phoned 999 and an ambulance rushed me to hospital where they confirmed that I’d had a stroke.”

Conor spent three weeks in hospital where he recovered well but was left with aphasia and a loss of feeling in his right hand.

“Once I left hospital I came back to Belfast to recover. It’s been tough as I used to love reading but that’s been affected badly by the stroke. For me, communicating has become so difficult. There’s times I can’t find the right word and I have to stop. I’m receiving speech and language therapy which is really helping but I get frustrated. I now have a few techniques that help such as writing down the words I want to say. At the moment I’m unable to feel temperature with my right hand. There’s been times when I’ve burnt myself cooking as I just can’t feel hot or cold with that hand. It means I have to adjust and remember to use my left hand for that sort of thing.”

“Right now I don’t know if I will go back to my course at university. I want to take a really long look at my choices and figure out what I actually want from here on in. Since my stroke, I’ve been so bored. I’m young and I can’t work, reading is really tough and there’s not much to do at the moment with the Covid-19 restrictions. I’ve found walking has really helped me get through it though. I was so used to looking ahead, study, work, and music, always something to fill my time. I just want to get on with something.”

“Soon after the stroke it hit me that my recovery is going to take a while and I can’t change that so, I might as well approach it with a positive attitude. I suppose that one positive thing I see now is, I’ve been given this opportunity to rethink my future.”

Dr Rubina Ahmed, Research Director at the Stroke Association, said: “Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability in the UK and the second biggest killer in the world. It’s extremely concerning that we’re seeing strokes happening in ways we have not seen before. This research is absolutely critical in understanding and treating stroke after Covid-19, to help reduce the devastating effects and ultimately improve lives. Covid-19 is here to stay, so it’s vital we can prevent and treat strokes linked with the virus.

“The pandemic has shattered our fundraised income and is threatening research that drives life-changing breakthroughs in stroke care. As a result of the pandemic, we have had to halve our budget for stroke research. Research improves treatment and care for people affected by stroke so they can live their best lives possible, and that’s why stroke research is worth saving. Now more than ever, we need the public’s support. If you can, please help us find a way through the research funding crisis by donating today, so that we can fund more life-saving research.”

In February, the Stroke Association announced the world’s largest study to confirm if Covid-19 increases the risk of stroke and by how much. Together with the new research announced today, the two studies will help doctors to prevent and best treat Covid-19 strokes in the people who are most at risk.

Over the past 30 years the Stroke Association has played a crucial role in supporting stroke research in the UK. Research helps stroke survivors rebuild their lives, but the pandemic has hit research hard. By saving stroke research, more stroke survivors can live life to the full.

Find out how stroke research helps rebuild lives at stroke.org.uk/rebuildinglives or to donate, please visit: stroke.org.uk/saveresearch

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  • Stroke strikes every five minutes in the UK and it changes lives in an instant.
  • The Stroke Association is a charity working across the UK to support people to rebuild their lives after stroke. We believe that everyone deserves to live the best life they can after stroke. From local support services and groups, to online information and support, anyone affected by stroke can visit stroke.org.uk or call our dedicated Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100 to find out about support available locally.
  • Our specialist support, research and campaigning are only possible with the courage and determination of the stroke community and the generosity of our supporters. With more donations and support, we can help rebuild even more lives.
  • You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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The UK's leading stroke charity helping people to rebuild their lives after stroke

The Stroke Association. We believe in life after stroke. That’s why we campaign to improve stroke care and support people to make the best possible recovery. It’s why we fund research to develop new treatments and ways to prevent stroke. The Stroke Association is a charity. We rely on your support to change lives and prevent stroke. Together we can conquer stroke.

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